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Community Policing Via Internet

Now, even the smallest police department can have an email alert system or electronic bulletin board, and have it without building or installing any software or hardware.

These E-government capabilities were previously restricted to agencies with larger budgets, more staff, and significant computer infrastructure. Now, Application Service Providers (ASP) make it possible for even the smallest agency to have the same technology capabilities as larger agencies.

An ASP is a third-party organization that creates, hosts, and maintains the computers, Internet connections, and software, required to make the services work. This enables police departments without a strong computer infrastructure or skilled IT staff to provide the same services previously restricted to larger agencies. With an ASP, agencies can be up and running in hours rather than spending months of development time and thousands of dollars to build their own systems. Officers simply log on to the Internet and use the tools.

One of the most popular on-line community policing tools available is an email alert system. Police can quickly alert residents on multiple topics, from traffic delays, to school closings, to missing persons. The information is delivered to cell phones, text pagers, and computer email. It is an instant force multiplier, especially when dealing with missing or abducted children.

Broadcasting an alert is easy. Police log onto an ASP’s password-protected web site and compose a message. They select a neighborhood and add a picture, video, or sound file as needed. The alert is instantly sent to thousands of people via their computer email, text pager, cell phone email, and PDA devices. Now, police can alert people at work, at the school bus stop, or on their way home from work!

Police are not tied to their headquarters for broadcasting. They have the flexibility to broadcast alerts from any location with an Internet connection, to include patrol cars, satellite offices, or even a hotel room.

The Leesburg, VA Police issue traffic congestion alerts to help residents find alternate routes home from the congested Washington, DC traffic. They recently issued an alert for a senior citizen with dementia, who was missing from his nursing home. Community residents responded to help search, and the man was discovered. The Leesburg Police pay less than $400 a year for the service.

Residents subscribe to the free email alert service by connecting to a web site and selecting their neighborhood and the information services they want to receive. When police broadcast an alert, it only goes to those residents affected, thus eliminating information overload.

Another benefit an ASP offers to smaller agencies is that subscribers register on-line. Police do not have to assign an officer to add or remove email addresses or change services.

Privacy concerns are mitigated because only a user name, email address, and community name are collected. To further ensure privacy, the system design allows police to broadcast without knowing to which specific email addresses.

Another available on-line tool is the electronic message board. It allows open communication between residents and police staff. Residents can go on-line and post questions, and police can respond with information. It also works in the reverse, similar to a Crimestoppers tip line.

When law enforcement agencies explain recent police activity to residents, it builds confidence in the agencies and encourages residents to join in keeping their neighborhoods safe. In this way, the email alert system and on-line message boards evolve into an electronic neighborhood watch.

Public administrators are recognizing they need to involve marketing strategies to promote their municipal budget. Sending customized emails that display the police agency logo and vision or mission statements are an effective method to build that public support. The nature of police work and its varied and frequent contacts with residents lends itself nicely to leveraging the power of e-services.

Charles Manning, a former police officer in New Castle County, DE and Prince William County, VA is a systems engineer working on national intelligence issues. He is the founder of Manning Systems Engineering LLC, a technical consulting firm that contracts to US government and law enforcement customers. He may be reached at or visit

Published in Law and Order, Apr 2005

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